ETHOS: Left and Right are just arms and legs on the same body

Oops, too close for youtube’s comfort? Only hours after I posted this it disappeared. http://vimeo.com/24706064
Watch the video before you read the following:

“Our Ethos is all that we currently hold to be true. It is what we act upon. It governs our manners, our business and our politics.”
Howard Zinn 1922 – 2010

The left/right, liberal/conservative paradigm is meaningless. It is a smoke screen, a delusion, a diversion. I have to keep reminding myself of that because my thoughts and values are so steeped in conservative traditions. Harrelson, Zinn and others in this movie are icons of the left. Yet, here he is speaking intelligently to the same issues that have polarized the right against the left and reaching similar conclusions to mine on what to do about it.

One of the prime reasons for this Village is a reaction to a world gone berserk. 9/11 was the watershed moment that changed my world view and led ultimately to my decision to find another solution. It is a reaction to powerlessness against overwhelmingly powerful forces.

Most of the world has taken refuge in the very activities that perpetuate their surrender of freedom and meaning in life. Harrelson correctly points out that in the aftermath of 9/11, we were told the solution was to go shopping. And again, in 2008 when the economy crumbled, we were told that it was our duty to save the economy by doing what? “Go shopping”.

How ironic is it that I am now teaching “Strategic Marketing” at the University? Yet, Marketing, like the Internet, like a gun, like a drill press or a saw, is a tool, not inherently good or evil. It is simply a means of identifying and satisfying human needs and desires. Some enterprises use marketing effectively to pander to base human needs and wants. There is a BIG market for these products and services.

I do marketing to find and satisfy people who are looking for a means to improve their lives, to find meaning and joy. The product I am building is mostly intangible. It is community, harmony, security, connection to nature, creative and constructive work, a meaningful life. In this context and for this purpose, is marketing evil? Only if what I am selling is bogus or of poor quality.

Yet, while I agree with Harrelson’s prescription, it is only one element of a total solution for an empty, shackled life. “Stop shopping” or at least shop wisely. It’s positioned as an offensive weapon against an entrenched corporate enemy. Is that where it ends? In the unlikely event that this perpetual war should end, either in victory or defeat, what do we, the wounded and weary foot-soldiers, return from the battle front to? There must be something more, something meaningful to replace our culture’s obsession with consumptive living.

Sandy Hook is another 9/11 event. It is meant to polarize right and left. Masterful marketing used with malice aforethought, IMHO. Extreme polarization between left and right. Strident calls for disarmament from the left while demand for guns and ammo empties the gun stores and heavily armed and fortified communities appear in Idaho and elsewhere.

Left and right are just arms and legs on the same body.
Powers that divide, profitably conquer
while the masses, having lost their heads,
trade arms, legs, body and soul for fear and division.
– Grant Miller

In answer to this insanity, can we not respectfully explore and enjoy different perspectives and world views while we live peaceably within our means and “in Harmony with Nature and People”? That is my solution and my intent.

“The End of Suburbia” Still groundbreaking and urgent?


In this morning’s email is an article titled, STILL GROUNDBREAKING AND URGENT from nextworldTV.  Here is the text that accompanies an edited version of the original film.

“We’re literally stuck up a cul-de-sac in a cement SUV without a fill-up” – James Howard Kunstler
This is the film that years ago, inspired the spark for the creation of Nextworldtv. Released in 2004, it is still groundbreaking and urgent in it’s message and the questions it raises.
“Since World War II North Americans have invested much of their newfound wealth in suburbia. It has promised a sense of space, affordability, family life and upward mobility. As the population of suburban sprawl has exploded in the past 50 years, so too has the suburban way of life become embedded in the American consciousness.
Suburbia, and all it promises, has become the American Dream.
But as we enter the 21st century, serious questions are beginning to emerge about the sustainability of this way of life. With brutal honesty and a touch of irony, The End of Suburbia explores the American Way of Life and its prospects as the planet approaches a critical era, as global demand for fossil fuels begins to outstrip supply. World Oil Peak and the inevitable decline of fossil fuels are upon us now, some scientists and policy makers argue in this documentary.
The consequences of inaction in the face of this global crisis are enormous. What does Oil Peak mean for North America? As energy prices skyrocket in the coming years, how will the populations of suburbia react to the collapse of their dream? Are today’s suburbs destined to become the slums of tomorrow? And what can be done NOW, individually and collectively, to avoid The End of Suburbia?”

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Back in January of 2008, (remember 2008? Ugh!) I posted an article about the peak oil phenomenon.  In that post, I referred to this movie, “The End of Suburbia”.  On July 3, 2009, we screened it at the Village amphitheater.  Well, since its release in 2004, a fair amount of oil has gone under the bridge.  Something like seven or eight year’s worth.  Time tends to sort out the truth of predictions.  So, where are we now?  There are many who claim that we have passed the peak and global oil production is clearly in decline.  Predictions that oil companies would be forced to move to ever more exotic technologies and expensive extraction methods like fracking and oil shale or sand extraction, or ever deeper ocean drilling.  These predictions have proven true and with disastrous ecological consequences in the Gulf of Mexico, Canada and the Bakken oil fields.  Yet, the oil industry maintains that the newer technologies have made these methods of extraction cheaper, so there is still plenty of cheap oil.  OK, if so, why does gas at the pump continue to rise at such a steep pace, accented by short periods of relief?  And why is our military still in the Middle East with sabres continually rattling, now at Iran?

On the other hand, one of the claims of the movie is that we are also running out of natural gas that fuels most of our power plants.  That makes continued growth impossible and suburbia doomed.
But T. Boone Pickens, in a TED talk claims we are at the dawn of a new boom in cheap energy on the back of natural gas while reaffirming that “the days of cheap oil are over”.  Fact is, natural gas is incredibly cheap right now.  A financial newsletter that I track says that cheap natural gas, with the build-out of the required infrastructure to replace gasoline for trucks, buses and finally cars, heralds an investment opportunity not seen since the oil and suburban construction boom of the 50’s.  If cheap natural gas is here for the long term, are all our problems solved, with peak oil just a speed bump on the on-ramp to a global concrete superhighway?

Meanwhile, the great recession (depression) rolls on.  America is clearly overextended financially.  Talk of QE3 at the Fed is back in the news.  Is our current financial predicament an outcome of peak oil or, as some claim, evil banker boogeymen intentionally wrecking global economies to bring about a New World Order that will enslave us all?  The specter of hyper-inflation and social chaos still looms as the can gets kicked further down the road.

Hmmmm… Information, disinformation.  Booms, busts, fear, reassurance.  What’s real?  Still cloudy? Tired of guessing what’s coming down or when?  It’s mentally and emotionally exhausting.  But, embedded in this doomsday flick is a bright spot.  Notice that the precursor to the Suburban boom of the 50’s was a more genuine promise of grand country living in a few planned, rural communities where people actually had livestock and raised their own food, but still had access to cultural refinements.  These early communities were for the wealthy, while suburbia became a caricature of that dream.  Fast forward to today, the dream of self-sufficient, country living is not reserved for the wealthy.  It’s a more authentic, peaceful way of life available to the rest of us.

Ready to stop the hand-wringing?  I think there are better reasons to check out of suburbia than peak oil.  They go back to a time when people knew and trusted their neighbors, a time when life was less complicated and people lived closer to the beauty that is nature.  It was also a time of creative invention, when Americans were confident in their own practical skills and full of the joy of exploring and learning new things because they could.  Let’s rebuild that life together at the Village on Sewanee Creek.

Demographics Drive Change

Whether it’s population or economic growth, exponential growth inevitably ends with bust and collapse.
Here is a video that explains the impact of exponential growth. 
World news is fixated on the UN’s pronouncement that we are passing the 7 billion population mark.
Ironically, there are many countries where population collapse is the issue as chronicled in this op-ed from AlJazeera, “BABY BUST SPELLS TROUBLE FOR RICH NATIONS”
Japan is the poster child, but Russia, Europe and even the US are on the list of countries now or soon unable to support aging populations. For those interested in seeing what the future looks like for countries with aging populations, check out this blog on the rusting of Japan.   Written from the perspective of an affluent expat financial analyst who is fluent in the Japanese language and culture, I find it fascinating in an eerie-dreary sort of way.
While energy resource depletion (aka Peak Oil) is one of the fundamental tectonic plates shifting beneath our feet, population demographics is another one.
Demographics defined my thirty year career. Perhaps nothing is as sensitive to or exposes demographics so clearly as how people eat. I was at the forefront of exporting American food service and retail chains to emerging nations around the world. I successfully developed well-known brands like IHOP, Papa John’s, Pizza Inn, 7-Eleven, Dunkin’ Donuts, Baskin-Robbins and Blockbuster Videoin over fifty countries.

7-Eleven's could be found EVERYWHERE in Thaila...

Baskin-Robbins Korea 1 of thousands

In the 70’s, it was Japan. There was a massive demographic shift as young mothers entered the workforce (similar to what had occurred in the prior 15 years in the USA. Japan was becoming more affluent. Young families with growing incomes and less time wanted convenient food options. Japan was mimicking America’s infatuation with chain restaurants. Japan’s growth curve was steep and so was the decline.
None of the brands I represented had the marketing or financial clout of McDonald’s, so I had to be sensitive to targeting only countries that had youthful, aspiring populations, mostly in developing countries where success was assured. For me, that almost always meant youth in Asia. Our greatest successes were in places like Japan (in the early days), Korea, Thailand, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other middle Eastern countries and more recently Eastern Europe, China and India.  Developing Latin American Countries

I opened this shop in Pakistan

were OK for inexpensive products like Dunkin’ Donuts).  Western Europe was always a tough nut to crack. My career taught me to be intuitively sensitive to population and economic demographics. Lesson number one.

Lesson number two was equally grounded in fundamental tectonic fact as expressed in the phrases “watch where the feet point” and “follow the money”. In the politically charged, sometimes back-stabbing corporate world of a senior executive, it was often difficult to know what alliances would form to support or betray you. Even hero de jour, Steve Jobs, was thrown out of the company he founded.  Those things shift quickly in the winds of expediency and personal interests. But if you have your ear to the ground you can always sense the grinding at the tectonic level. That is where the truth is.

As world resources become increasingly strained and rich nations slide into poverty, I see a growing call coming for population control measures that will target the less productive members of society, the old and infirm. It will be justified as “scientific” and natural survival of the fittest. Alex Jones and commentators like him attribute that to the “New World Order” elites, rising fascism, communism and the “banksters”. The mass media counters by marginalizing that rhetoric as nut-case “conspiracy theory” or “fear mongering”. It is hard to forecast who will be the leaders, the movers and shakers in a radically changing world. But it is clear that the world is about to shake because at the tectonic level (demographics and resources) there are unmistakable clues to the inevitable. Leaders like Hitler are impotent by themselves. Their power derives from their ability to tap into the tectonic forces of the masses. Demographic tectonics tells me there will be a mass of people clamoring for solutions. History tells me that someone like Hitler will offer solutions. The solution to over-population and under supply of resources is inevitably eugenics.

Under the din of claims, counter-claims and fault-finding, the tectonic plates of the masses continue to shift. Regardless of where one hangs the blame, earthquakes, like nature in general, move without regard to our feeble attempts to explain them.   It seems an ironic twist of language that my early career was defined by the potential of youth in Asia, while in later life I am thinking more about the potential for euthanasia. My early analysis of the demographic potential of “youth-in-Asia” led me to respond correctly and productively to the needs of the masses by developing thousands of restaurants and retail outlets in emerging nations. Later analysis of demographic potential for euthanasia leads me to the conclusion that in a eugenic world where only the fit and productive survive, we had better get on with the job of being not only fit, but productive and self-sufficient.

My baby boomer generation has mortgaged future generations with debt that cannot be repaid.  Those generations will default on that debt just as surely as sub-prime mortgagees did.

A time for Conservation

As we helplessly watch the destruction of the Gulf of Mexico and surrounding shoreline communities I am reminded of how important it is for each of us to be good stewards of the earth God gave us.

In the ecology of the earth, there is a delicate balance between species, filling each niche precisely. But change is constant and natural. Not to worry. Thankfully, as changes in climate or habitat occur, and any given niche is vacated, it is usually rapidly filled by other plants and animals, maintaining a delicate balance. But when massive destruction of habitat occurs we are the losers. The beauty of our earth can become a wasteland.

In times like this it is easy and tempting to point fingers at BP and government or business in general, blaming all our ills on others. But there is plenty of blame to go around. These are times when we should ask, “what am I doing to be a good steward of this earth?   Am I blameless? ”

One of the ways you can support the conservation of the earth is by keeping large tracts of land and eco-systems in their natural state. That’s not economically possible for most folks, but in the Village on Sewanee Creek, we are offering a way to economically contribute, own and enjoy. By setting aside 500 acres of rugged country as a nature preserve, we not only conserve the earth, we are saving a place for the enjoyment of ourselves and our children.

I often wonder if people truly appreciate the value of this space we are preserving.  The Cumberland Plateau is some of the most bio-diverse land in North America.  Of course, everyone wants things at the lowest possible price. So, when I get comments that Village land is too expensive, I wonder if they are connecting the dots. I wonder if they understand that by purchasing a piece of ground here, whether it’s an acre or ten acres or more, they are sharing in the benefit of 500 acres of pristine woods, waterfalls and creeks. They are acquiring and protecting these things not only for themselves but for the health of this earth. When one considers value in this context, land in the Village is a tremendous bargain.

Preparedness Fair at the Village on Sewanee Creek

It’s official.  Our first annual preparedness fair will be held at the Village on Sewanee Creek Commons, villager homes and gardens and our nature preserve on July 23-24, 2010.  Call in advance to reserve a campsite or exhibitor space.

See the attached printable

flyer for details.  Preparedness Fair Flyer

See you here!

Prepper’s Top Ten Necessities for Life in Troubled Times

  1. Relationships: Positive, mutually supportive with capable, skilled people
  2. Spiritual & Mental Health: The foundation for all positive action.
  3. Physical Health: Sustainable, natural health care to supplement a healthy lifestyle.
  4. Water: Reliable, secure source of pure water
  5. Food: Natural food from a source you trust and control (yourself)
  6. Shelter: An energy efficient dwelling
  7. Energy: Redundant, reliable, private sources of storable energy.
  8. Reserve: Store and rotate a backup supply of everything you use (water, food, medicine, tools, fuel, clothing & other consumables)
  9. Trade: Prepare to trade for everything else (Cash, Non-Depreciating Assets, Barter-Valuable Supplies, Practical, marketable Skills)
  10. Knowledge & Skills: True self-sufficiency comes from experience – knowing how to do it yourself.

Take a good look at this list.  If this were a report card, what would your grade be on each of these important subjects? For the past 50 years, the developed world has lived in a pampered, complex, yet socially dysfunctional style that values:

  • Entertainment & Entitlement over productive Work
  • Self-Indulgence over Selfless Service
  • Pleasure over Moral Integrity
  • Intellectual Prowess over Practical Skills
  • Dependence on complex systems over Independent Self-Sufficiency
  • Conspicuous Consumption over Provident Preparation.

Is it any surprise that most people lack the skills, preparation, and resources to confidently face a troubled future? Is it any wonder that people feel helpless and out of control? Is there any way you can become confidently competent and provisioned for these ten essential items all by yourself? It’s a daunting task.  But, with help, you CAN do it.

That’s why relationships are at the top of the list. That’s why we are building a community of self-sufficient people at the beautiful Village on Sewanee Creek. If your values are the inverse of the above list, If you want to become more confident, more self-sufficient, and more at peace with your neighbors and in harmony with nature, If you desire close, trusting relationships in a like-minded community, but aren’t ready for a religious or hippie commune, give us a call.

Sustainable Living Progress Report

Progress Update

OK, so I have been really bad about posting updates lately. That’s because I’ve been working hard on projects and I’m dog-tired at the end of each day.  The good news is that we’re moving forward with lots of cool stuff here.

Thanks to my wife, the greenhouse is planted and lots of little sprouts are poking their heads up. The weather has gotten warm enough to shut down the greenhouse furnace for now. Daytime temps are in the 70’s and greenhouse temp’s are in the 80’s and 90’s. We still need to install the shade cloth for the summer. Should be arriving this week.

We have engaged a land company on several projects. A huge track-hoe is now sitting on the property ready to begin work this week expanding the retention pond where we plan to raise cattails to be distilled for alcohol fuel and retain water for irrigation.

Chuck is making good progress on the wood gasifier that will also make fuel for the stationary generator installation. This green electricity generating system will also become an economic mainstay for producing a valuable product in the Village.  Chuck is part of the larger community web of folks dedicated to being self-sufficient. When you visit, you should make time to meet him. He’s an amazing resource and an amazing guy!

We have finished grading a large pad for a workshop / storage building. I’m excited about this prototype project because we will be using 40′ X 8′ shipping containers as the green building blocks. These large steel containers are built for ocean shipping conditions. Therefore, strong enough to handle hurricanes but inexpensive because there are millions of these things piled up at sea ports needing to be salvaged. I plan to face the sides of them with oak slab paneling – a FREE byproduct of local saw mills and insulate them with recycled insulation from the many commercial chicken houses that have closed near here. We will install roof trusses with a pitched steel roof and, once again install tanks to collect rainwater for irrigation. The shop will be heated in winter from the same outdoor wood furnace that will heat the greenhouse and two other homes. So, when we’re done, we’ll have a state-of-the-art green facility that costs not a lot more than our sweat equity and has an attractive, rustic look to boot.

Now for the part that really gets my creative juices going. We have purchased three of these containers – two for the shop and a third one that will be used to hosue the screen and backstage at the amphitheater. By this year’s third annual July 4th event we hope the amphitheater will be fully and permanently functional. The stage container will also house electronic sound equipment, a small kitchen and serve as a multipurpose community center.

My brother has been here for the past month working on his house and helping with all these projects. It’s great to have like-minded people who you love focused together on the same goals and having fun at it.

It seems that the worse the economy gets the better it is for the people in the Village.

We look forward to seeing all of you soon.